Padraig Harrington: In match play, you simply can’t have 2 captains

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Padraig Harrington: In match play, you simply can’t have 2 captains

Euro Tour

Padraig Harrington: In match play, you simply can’t have 2 captains

 

 When it comes to match-play strategy at a Presidents Cup or a Ryder Cup, some players prefer to play their own game and others try to play the opponent. In my experience, one size does not fit all. You can’t just do one or the other. You have to do a little bit of both. 

I try to play my own game, but I’m always aware of what my competition is doing and prefer to over-predict what they are going to do.

For example, if my opponent misses the green, if I can think that he’s going to at least chip and putt for par, if not chip in, I tend to perform better thinking that way rather than ‘Oh, he made a mistake. Maybe he won’t get up and down. I should try to play safely into the green and two-putt.’  Most of the time the guy is going to get up and down, so you’ve still got to try and make birdie. That’s certainly given me the best results. If I get complacent, if I’m two-up and think it’s easy or the other guy is not playing well, then I’m in trouble. 

There are a couple of unique things with the team match-play events. You might have qualified based largely on your play nine months previous, so once you get there you really don’t know what form you’re going to be in that week. And yet, you’re under the spotlight and under pressure to play well like you’re having a winning week. You could be in the last singles match Sunday and you might have played badly all week, but the cameras come on and everyone is expecting you to hold up, hit the shots and play great. There’s an enormous amount of pressure involved in that. At other tournaments the cameras are only on you if you’re in contention.

There’s a lot of thinking going into the pairings now. I remember when a past U.S. captain suggested that he could toss golf balls in the air and the partnerships would be however they fell. Now captains realize they’ve got to think through it, and it’s not just as simple as putting Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson together because they’re ranked No. 1 and 2 in the world. Phil likes to be in control of the pairing, which is difficult when you’re playing with the World No.1. It’s all about matching styles.

I loved playing with Colin Montgomerie at the Belfry in 2002 and Oakland Hills in 2004. It’s interesting, I felt like I was in a supportive role. I was there to support Monty. Keep him in the right frame of mind, manage him around the course and keep him in the sweet spot. Let him play the golf and I would take care of whatever else that needed to be taken care of.

I like having a role. Put me with an equal and I don’t think I’m as good. I played with Luke Donald in 2010, and we weren’t effective together. We were really a classic case of being too similar, in that neither of us were the captain of the pairing. 

The next two days I played with a rookie in Ross Fisher, and I was clearly the man in charge. Basically, you just wound him up and he went out and played unbelievable golf at that Ryder Cup. That was an ideal example of a rookie playing unbelievably well because he believed in the senior player. I was reading all the putts and he holed most of them for two days. He was saying I was a genius reading those greens, but the fact of the matter was that he just believed me.

I like having a bit of a say. That’s my character. I wasn’t the lead partner necessarily with Monty, but I like having a set position in the partnership. You can’t have two captains in the pairing.

As far as opponents go, we all wanted to play Tiger because it was an opportunity to be a hero. Every Ryder Cup I played in, the whole of the European team would put their hands up to play against him, as he was so clearly No. 1 at the time. If you went out and beat him, it was a career feat and an opportunity to go out and take the glory. Also, we were all queuing up because everyone was already expecting you to get beaten, so you were in a no-lose situation.

I would love to be a captain down the road, but in Europe it’s not a foregone conclusion. It’s a very big deal, and now a lot of younger guys are entering the frame. You’ve got players like Martin Kaymer and Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood, then a number of guys coming in another four years’ time and beyond. Hopefully I’ll put my name in the hat in the near future and see where it goes from there.

(Note: This story appears in the October 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

 

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